Back for Round 2 of the New Japan Cup, as we’re going from 16 to 8 today; let’s not waste any time.
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
Alrighty, first and foremost, BRACKET!
Starting with the upper left:
EVIL defeated Jeff Cobb by pinfall in a match that had ref bumps, run-ins, and a distraction finish. So, the usual EVIL match, although before the nonsense started it was actually looking like a fun power match, as Cobb is figuring out New Japan more and more with each passing day. **3/4.
Toru Yano defeated The Great O-Khan by pinfall. Well, if you wanted wrestling, this match wasn’t gonna give it to you, but it certainly was a Yano match through and through. There were removed buckles, taped hands, low blows, scissors….I mean, I’ve been working the New Japan beat now for over a year and ‘rating’ Yano matches seems like a foolish exercise to me. This one was a bit too long, frankly, and drew out what could have been an entertaining 6-8 minute match by almost double. Wrong guy went over, too, as O-Khan losing doesn’t really HURT him, but it doesn’t help him either and Yano is almost assuredly not getting past EVIL next round anyway. **.
To the bottom left we go:
Minoru Suzuki vs KENTA – 2nd Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021
Well, you knew I was recapping this one. These two haven’t met in a single match in over 15 years, and that was back in Pro Wrestling NOAH, so things have changed considerably since then. KENTA brings down a newspaper to read during Suzuki’s entrance…..
Suzuki stares down at KENTA with disdain, AKA how he looks at all other things living or dead, and snatches the paper away from KENTA, so KENTA rolls out. He stalls for awhile and gets the paper back from the timekeeper, so Suzuki takes the paper again and puts it in the center of the ring, daring KENTA to come read it now.
Apparently, KENTA really, really wants to read that paper, because that gets him in the ring and Suzuki goes to work. KENTA tries to grab Suzuki from the outside and Suzuki armbars him through the ropes, and they head to the floor for more punishment as KENTA meets the rails. He grabs a chair and the ref stops him, allowing KENTA to kick the chair into Suzuki’s face and take over.
Back in and KENTA goes for the eyes of Suzuki, then flattens him with a kick to the chest before choking him in the corner. Suzuki tries to come back and KENTA dares Minoru to hit him, then ducks and takes him down with a drop toehold. Neckbreaker for one.
KENTA kicks Suzuki in the face, and it’s time for Murder Grandpa to rise. He slaps the s--- out of KENTA, then headbutts him and kicks him in the corner. Suzuki nearly ends KENTA’s life with a forearm, so KENTA DDTs him to buy some time. Rope-assisted DDT (The Greenkiller) gets one. They trade running kicks and forearms in separate corners and KENTA hits the delayed dropkick before going up. Double foot stomp gets one as Suzuki won’t even give him two before kicking out.
KENTA escapes a front facelock and tries to hook Game Over, but Suzuki keeps his head on the mat to block it, then claws his way to the ropes. KENTA with a running knee to finally get a two count. GTS, but Suzuki goes over the back and trips KENTA into a half-crab. He turns that into a half-Liontamer before KENTA finally makes the ropes.
Back up and KENTA slaps Suzuki, and here we go. Suzuki uses KENTA’s face for target practice, then KENTA returns fire. And now they’re trading and the match gets awesome all of a sudden after being relatively mediocre. KENTA with a spinning backfist, then a second one. GTS is countered into the rear naked choke, but Suzuki just HAS to be himself, so he releases it to go for the Gotch and KENTA immediately counters into the Go To Sleep for the pin. Good finish. (KENTA over Minoru Suzuki, pinfall, 16:50)
THOUGHTS: ***1/2. Finishing sequence here was great and made perfect sense, but we had a lot of meandering to get there. I’ve beaten the drum for Suzuki since the comeback and think he’s been fantastic, but this one didn’t click for me all that much, honestly. It was good in the sense that it did what was expected of it, with stiff strikes and a neato finish, but it should have been a 10 minute match, not a 17 minute one. They padded it.
Hirooki Goto vs Shingo Takagi – 2nd Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021
Goto is one of those guys that I always forget about, then he goes out and has a great match or something and I’m always like “oh yeah, Goto! He can work!” and then I forget about him again until the same thing happens. He’s just an upper-mid dude that can keep doing his thing so long as he wants to and there will be a place for him, but he’s almost certainly hit his ceiling in New Japan and will probably climb no higher.
Dueling shoulderblocks, nobody moves, dueling forearms, nobody gains an advantage. Opening moments of the match are really just there to establish some manliness. Goto catches Shingo with a rollup out of nowhere that almost had me, honestly. Shingo apparently felt the same as his eyes bug out after kicking out at two.
Out to the floor and Shingo controls there, sending Goto to various metallic items before DDTing Hirooki on the floor. Back in, Shingo drops a knee for two. More knees from Takagi and he tries his own GTR using the middle rope, but when Goto escapes he just fires headbutts anyway as both guys end up on the apron, where Goto escapes and slams the back of Shingo’s head to the apron.
Now it’s Goto’s turn on offense. Back elbow drops Shingo and we go to a chinlock, then a headscissors on the mat, Takagi makes the ropes. Goto hammers him with elbows to the back of the head, but runs into a back elbow and a lariat from Shingo. Suplex gets two for Shingo. Goto returns the favor after escaping a Gory Bomb.
Shingo clotheslines Goto in the corner, so Goto is the one that returns the favor this time, and then they exchange back suplexes, as we’re deep into the story of the match, where both guys are capable of hurting the other but both are also strong enough to kick out. Now they just come off the ropes and fire lariats at each other with neither guy willing to go down until both guys hit the mat at the same time. That was a tremendous sequence, with the previous parts of the match setting it up perfectly.
They exchange moves and Goto hits an Ushigoroshi so both guys are back down. Back up and Goto fires back elbows at Shingo, who responds with a lariat to the back of Goto’s head and both guys are down again. Shingo back up now as these two are selling their asses off in a really strong, heavyweight way, where the exhaustion is coming through really strongly. Gory Bomb by Shingo hits, then he counters a Goto clothesline into Made in Japan for two.
Goto tries some forearms, but there’s nothing behind them and Shingo throws some of his own that send Goto crashing to the mat. Shingo goes for the big right, but Goto ducks it and hits the GTW to buy some time as he can’t cover. Headbutt by Goto, reverse GTR hits! 1, 2, NO! Goto tries a kick, but Shingo catches it and hits a headbutt before putting Goto down again with a lariat.
They fight over finishers as both men reverse, and Takagi sets Goto across the top rope and hits a giant rope-assisted GTR for two! Shingo off the ropes, INSANE Pumping Bomber (Goto’s flipping sell was off the charts) hits! 1, 2, NO! Shingo can’t believe it, but doesn’t take long to hit Last of the Dragon to finish off a very game Hirooki Goto. (Shingo Takagi over Hirooki Goto, pinfall, 23:52)
THOUGHTS: ****. This was the best Goto match I’ve seen in a long time, like, a really long time. This was a really, really good heavyweight wrestling match as both guys sold multiple knockdowns like death and didn’t do a ton of nearfalls, because they knew it would take more to put the other guy away. Every time both guys would trade off moves, they didn’t just pop up – they did a wonderful job of really putting the idea that the accumulated damage was taking a toll on them front and center in the match. It was a good story and a good performance by both guys, with the right wrestler winning.
Up next, top right:
Will Ospreay defeated Zack Sabre Jr by pinfall.
SANADA defeated Yuji Nagata by pinfall in a match that was very much the ‘New Japan Dad vs Young Guy’ match that both of these guys can do in their sleep, honestly. It was solid as you’d expect, but it never really turned the corner it needed to to reach any type of upper echelon. It was hurt due to the lack of drama in the winner, as I never believed for a moment that Nagata could win. ***.
And finally, bottom right:
David Finlay defeated YOSHI-HASHI by pinfall in what had to be considered an upset. I really enjoyed this match, as it was well-paced and well-worked, but nothing special beyond that. Finlay winning was a good sign for him, although one would expect that it’s coming to an end next round. **3/4.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Jay White (w/GEDO) – 2nd Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021
Yeah, like THIS won’t rule. As LT said the other day, it’s the best babyface in New Japan against the best heel in New Japan.
Jay tells Tana to lie down and Hiroshi does it! Jay can’t believe his luck and turns to point it out to GEDO….and Tanahashi rolls him up for two! What a dick this Tanahashi is. Jay attacks, but Tanahashi repels him and uses the power of his abs to send him scurrying to the floor. Not a joke, he posed and Jay bailed. Tsuji is totally into this and poses with Tana, so Jay does the rational thing and beats the s--- out of him on the floor, drawing out Tana and allowing Jay to send him to the barricade. After finishing off Tsuji and beating on Gabriel Kidd for a moment, he goes back to ramming Tana to the railing multiple times before getting back in the ring for more posing as the ref counts Tana. Glorious.
Back in and Jay stomps Tana’s face, but the ref won’t count since that isn’t a wrestling move, and do you even wonder for a second if Jay doesn’t get in the ref’s face about it? Jay with a backbreaker and a half-crab, then a cravat. Tana tries to fight back, so White puts him in an abdominal stretch and pinches his belly fat while yelling at him to ‘get in f------ shape!’ There are not enough superlatives to describe how awesome Jay White is right now.
Tana comes back with a flying forearm, then a slam and a dragon-screw on the mat, somersault senton gets two. Standing switch reversals and Jay goes to the hair before getting a DDT. Blade Buster gets two for White. They slug it out in the middle of the ring now, won by Tanahashi. He takes a big swing and White ducks, Jay with a Flatliner and a deadlift German.
Jay dumps Tana, who skins the cat back in and ends up getting dropped by a huge Uranage from Jay that gets two. Fisherman’s Buster is countered by Hiroshi with the Twist and Shout. Jay rolls to the apron and catches Tana coming in with a dragon-screw through the middle rope, Tana returns the favor as Jay tries to get back in the ring.
Tana dropkicks the knee and hits another dragon-screw on the mat, and it’s Cloverleaf time. Jay claws his way to the ropes to break. Tana with a drop sleeper on Jay, and he catches GEDO coming in to try to interfere and sends the bookerman to the floor. Tana with a Sling Blade and he goes up, but Jay pops up and shakes the ropes, sending Tana crashing to the mat. Bladerunner attempt is countered by Tana into a straightjacket suplex with a bridge! 1, 2, no!
Full-nelson from Tana now and Jay escapes that, so Tana tries for a Cloverleaf and Jay blocks that by going to the eyes. Bladerunner is countered by Tana with a small package for two, then another attempt by Jay is stopped with a dragon-screw. Tana decides that’s a good idea and goes for another dragon-screw….but White was waiting for it and steps into it, countering into the Bladerunner for the pin. (Jay White over Hiroshi Tanahashi, pinfall, 19:56)
THOUGHTS: ****1/4. Yeah, I was right. There was no way this wasn’t going to rule. It’s not the best match the two have had, but it sure wasn’t bad. White’s usual heel mannerisms were on full display here in the best possible way, as was Tanahashi’s heroic selling and perfect pacing. White’s in-ring skills are matched with the cerebral nature of his character, as so many of his matches come down to him showcasing his preparation and outwrestling the opponent with a counter to a big move from the opponent, and it did here. I don’t necessarily think that Jay is the best in the world right now, but the argument can be made at this point. He just keeps putting on great matches, great promos, great everything.
Looking ahead to the 3rd Round:
Well, on the left side of the bracket, it feels like a complete no-brainer. EVIL and Shingo are, to me, overwhelming favorites to win their matches. Whenever Yano makes a run in one of these things, GEDO always knows just when to shut it off, and I think that the time has come to do so. It will almost assuredly be wacky, but EVIL is probably winning. Shingo/KENTA isn’t quite as set in stone, but I would think that Shingo is a comfortable favorite, since the match with EVIL isn’t attractive for KENTA, yet with Shingo it would pay off quite a bit from the LIJ split, it’s a fresh match for those guys, and with a trip to the Finals on the line it has real stakes. So yeah, I think it’s Shingo vs EVIL on this side.
The right side of the bracket is much more complicated. While I think it’s obvious that Jay White is heading to the Final 4 (no way is he beating Tanahashi and losing to Finlay), you can make a case for either Ospreay or SANADA to win the top half. On the one hand, if the plan is to make Ospreay into a main eventer, I can’t see him jobbing to SANADA, but the idea of a heel/heel match on the right side in the final 4 seems…..off to me, I guess? Like, Jay and Will’s characters don’t feel like it’s time to do that match. Whereas SANADA winning would set up a match with Jay that would feel much fresher, especially since they were in opposite G-1 Blocks this past year. In fact, a cursory Cagematch search indicates they have literally only ever had ONE singles match against each other ever, over a year ago at the New Beginning, so there’s some depth to mine here.
So if I have to pick, I’d say that we’re heading for SANADA and Jay in the Final 4. Maybe it’s wishful thinking so I can avoid Ospreay.
From there, to me I would assume the Final would be Shingo vs Jay, unless GEDO gets a wild hair up his ass and decides that NOW is the moment to do EVIL vs Jay to set off the Bullet Club war we all know is eventually coming, but I don’t think we’re going there yet.
I’ll be back for the Round of 8, everyone!
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
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